Hyping the Hurricane (Saturday update @ 5:15 pm Aug 27; Sunday updates @ 7:55 am & 5:00 pm Aug 28; Final update @ 3:00 am Aug 29)
For the past week, news and weather reporters have been feasting on warnings supplied by hurricane specialists that the US mainland was in store for "a big one" with Hurricane Irene. As with so much these days, the hype was far worse than the storm!
In the early morning of Saturday, August 27, 2011, marginal Hurricane Irene made landfall just to the east of Morehead City, NC.
Irene was the storm that had been hyped as certain to be a Category 3 storm (Saffir/Simpson Hurricane Scale) with sustained winds in the range of 111 to 130 mph as it churned up the Atlantic Seaboard and would be at least a Category 1 storm (sustained winds of 74-95 mph) when it slammed into New York State near New York City.
One report for Sussex County in northwestern New Jersey quoted a meteorologist for a well-known weather service as saying, we "are expecting it to become a Category 4 hurricane, but when it gets closer to New Jersey it will most likely weaken to a Category 2 strength" (sustained winds of 96-110 mph) with "winds as high as 60 mph and rainfalls between 4 and 8 inches". Irene never reached "Category 4" strength ("sustained winds 131-155 mph")! As Monday morning began to dawn, rather than the hyped "60 mph" winds, Andover-Aeroflex Airport in southeastern Sussex County recorded maximum sustained winds of just 16 mph (about one-quarter those predicted) with gusts only to 32 mph! In other words, even gusts failed to reach minimal tropical storm level for sustained winds (39 mph).
Here are the peak sustained winds and gusts recorded at key locations near where the storm made landfall in North Carolina:
(note the links are to the complete hourly histories)
The full hourly datasets reveal minimal hurricane force winds (74 mph) were observed once at New Bern in a gust while gusts ranging from 75 mph to 87 mph were recorded at Hatteras, NC between 6:51 am and 9:51 am (bear in mind that the motion of the storm, given as 14 mph, enhances storm winds for areas to the east of the center. Hatteras is located to the east of Irene, so that actual storm-generated gusts from the SE would have about a 7 mph component from the storms motion. Correcting for the storms motion, storm intensity wind gusts ranged from 68 mph to 80 mph with only a single gust (at 9:51 am) exceeding the threshold for hurricane winds. It is worth noting that Hatteras, NC, is located at the extreme outer banks of the barrier islands well to the east of North Carolina's mainland. By 10:51 am, the storm was about 50 miles due west of Hatteras where sustained winds had dropped to SE @ 45 mph with gusts to 71 mph (57 mph, subtracting the storm's northward motion)
According to the Saffir/Simpson Scale for establishing a hurricane's category, it is sustained wind that determines if a storm is to be categorized as a "hurricane" and at what strength. Based on ground station observations, Irene was no more than a strong tropical storm when it made landfall in North Carolina.
The movement of the storm inland and to the north was clearly shown by hourly observations at the Beaufort, NC airport where the following sequence was observed for the four hours from 5:56 am to 8:56 am:
5:56 am: E wind @ 36 mph, gusting to 57 mph (storm approaches from the south)
6:56 am: NE wind @ 35 mph, gusting to 60 mph (storm passing by to the southeast)
7:56 am; N wind @ 20 mph, gusting to 29 mph (storm passing by to the east)
8:56 am; W wind @ 21 mph, gusting to 30 mph (storm has passed to the north)
These data show the wind changing direction and reducing intensity as the storm moved nearly overhead and on its way north and east of Beaufort, NC. Note that Beaufort, NC is the closest station to where the storm was reported to have made landfall (at Cape Lookout, NC).
With the storm tracking slightly to the west of where it had been anticipated to cross NC, it is likely that greater land involvement will further diminish the prospects for this storm retaining even the feeble strength it has registered at landfall.
At 11:00 am the storm was being reported by the NHC as having sustained winds of 87 mph! Evidently, that wind was found using doppler radar of some other instrumentation as none of the local weather reporting stations revealed anything remotely approaching sustained winds of 87 mph!
Ground in the northeast has been saturated by recent heavy rains and Irene's arrival as a tropical storm/depression will likely bring considerable heavy rain and significant flooding to many areas. Fortunately, the storm is gaining forward speed and is expected to accelerate off to the northeast as the weekend progresses, thus minimizing the time period for heavy rainfall.
But all those warnings about Irene being a Category 3 storm with sustained winds in the range of 111 mph to 130 mph was just so much hype.
Irene is just another example of a storm's hype being far more vigorous than the storm itself!
Well, Irene did pay off handsomely for some -- those weather and news programs with millions of people in the mid-Atlantic and Northeastern US watching hours of hurricane news while the flames of fear of a battering storm were being fanned.
Kinda reminds us of the over-hyped claims of human-caused-global-warming, doesn't it?
Update at 5:15 pm EDT, August 28:
At 5:00 pm EDT, August 27, 2011, the storm location was: 36.2°N 76.0°W
Using Google Earth (which tracks the storm), nearby cities are used to find local reporting stations.
Here are several hourly report from stations close to the current storm location. Also include is the Norfolk, VA station (which is under a "Hurricane Warning" at 5:00 pm):
Elizabeth City Coast Guard Air Station: (max sustained winds recorded: E 48 mph @ 3:54 pm) online throughout the day (note that Elizabeth City, NC is at 36.3°N 76.3°W or NNW of the 5 pm storm location)
The highest sustained winds for these hourly reports was the last report (4:35 pm) from the Manteo / Dare County Regional Airport and was 57 mph, which is 17 mph BELOW hurricane strength (a gust to 74 mph was reported at the same time). Given the wind direction and location of this station, winds will be diminishing hereafter, making the 4:35 pm report the peak report from this station.
Sunday, August 28 Updates:
At 7:55 am, Sunday, August 28, I was unable to find a single NWS station report (minimally, each hour) that recorded sustained winds that reached hurricane force (74 mph)! This morning I expanded my search into areas where it would be most likely for peak winds to be observed (airports & coastal stations), including Ocean City, MD; Ocean City, NJ; Annapolis, MD; Dahlgren, VA; Norfolk, VA; and Milford, DE to name a few). Most of these stations reported at most modest to strong tropical force winds throughout their recent reporting history. Nothing remotely close to sustained winds of 74 mph or greater.
At 5:00 pm, Sunday, August 28, I checked wind histories from NWS observing stations near major cities where the NWS had been warning of sustained hurricane force winds for the past several days. Not a single site showed in its reporting history anything more significant than an average to strong tropical storm condition.
This table shows for each metropolitan area peak sustained wind and peak gust over all the stations associated with that area as well as the number of those stations (peak winds for the table shown in bold):
Peak Sustained (mph)
Peak Gust (mph)
Atlantic City, NJ
New Haven, CT
New York, NY
Irene's center passed over JFK at 8:50 am, 10 mile visibility, clear skies, 6 mph north wind.
These data suggest a question: If they held a hurricane and nobody could find any hurricane force winds, was there really a hurricane?
Furthermore, to be classified a "Tropical Storm" sustained winds of at least 39 mph must be observed. Looking at the table above, Atlantic City, NJ; Hartford, CT; and Philadelphia, PA did not even reach Tropical Storm conditions! Boston's Logan International Airport is the only reporting site that experienced significant tropical storm conditions, but certainly nothing approaching the magnitude of a hurricane! In fact, examination of the NWS station reports shows that sustained winds were not recorded at tropical storm magnitude of any significant period of time (Logan reported only two hourly readings of sustained winds exceeding the tropical storm threshold, 44 mph at 11:54 am and 40 mph at 1:54 pm with the 12:54 pm reading of only 35 mph sustained winds; New York's JFK has only one report of 40 mph sustained winds at 3:51 am).
If anyone can find any ground station observational evidence that supports Irene as even a Category 1 "Hurricane", please provide a link to it. Simply email "editor [at] web commentary.com" with a link to any of the eastern seaboard reporting stations that showed sustained winds of at least 74 mph.
Bob Webster, a descendant of Daniel Webster's father, Revolutionary War patriot Ebenezer Webster, has always had a strong interest in early American history, our Constitution, U.S. politics, and law. Politically he is a constitutional republican with objectivist and libertarian roots. He has faith in the ultimate triumph of truth and reason over deception and emotion. He is a strong believer in our Constitution as written and views the abandonment of constitutional restraint by the regressive Progressive movement as a great danger to our Republic. His favorite novel is Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand and believes it should be required reading for all high school students so they can appreciate the cost of tolerating the growth of unconstitutional crushingly powerful central government. He strongly believes, as our Constitution enshrines, that the interests of the individual should be held superior to the interests of the state.
A lifelong interest in meteorology and climatology spurred his strong interest in science. Bob earned his degree in Mathematics at Virginia Tech, graduating in 1964.